Northern Division: Serving every county in Minnesota and North Dakota
A Salvation Army social works helps a guest

Donations in Action: It’s the little things

Added on Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Many of the people The Salvation Army serves are in the middle of crazy, unpredictable circumstances. Their stories can be heartbreaking, uplifting and everything in between.

Here are some of their stories, submitted by Salvation Army social workers and caseworkers from across Minnesota and North Dakota. Out of respect for the people involved, we are retelling the stories without using names.

If you have ever wondered how The Salvation Army uses your donations, here are some good examples:

Sometimes, it’s the little things

A single mother and her young children arrived at our food shelf in desperate need of groceries. While the mom went to speak with one of my colleagues, her kids sat in a commons area near my desk.

Before long, one of the kids asked me if she could play with some of the toys in my office and color in a coloring book. Of course, I said yes. She brought the toys and coloring book to her siblings and they played while they waited.

After the family’s food was packed up, the kids gave back the toys and began to leave with their mom. Just before they left, I asked the oldest child if she would like to keep the coloring book. Her smile was the biggest I’ve ever seen. Her mom turned around and thanked me up and down.

In that moment I realized, as I often do, that even the smallest gestures can make the biggest difference.

A selfless woman

A petite, well-dressed 70-year-old woman stops by our building almost daily. Rarely have I seen her without a smile on her face. She knows everyone.

Before I knew her, I used to wonder why she attended our hot lunch program and food distribution. She did not appear to need any kind of help.

One day, my curiosity piqued when she asked if The Salvation Army had any extra clothing, school supplies and blankets. I said yes – but why? The woman said she needed them for some children whose mother had died. She further explained that the reason she stops by so often is to take basic needs items and give them to people and families in crisis. In addition, every time she ate in our lunchroom, she did so to encourage people who are lost and lonely – especially the chronic drug and alcohol users who always sit together at a table in the back of the lunchroom. By dining and conversing with this population, she wished to validate their humanity.

In the end, I was able to provide all items the woman requested for the orphaned children, plus some toys. She was thrilled.

I have since come to know this woman personally. She is kind, humble, and wonderful. She reminds me of a song we sang in church recently – “I Give Myself Away” by William McDowell.

Homeless girl won’t quit

Last month an incredible young woman was forced to check into our emergency youth shelter in St. Paul. She worked two jobs, was about to graduate high school, and had received a full scholarship to attend college in the fall.

Amid all of this young woman’s responsibilities, her main focus was to help her family get back into stable housing, as her mother and her sisters were also homeless.

I gave the young woman resources and information about low-income housing, financial supports, and public housing waiting lists so that she would be able to share the information with her mom.

During the young woman’s time at our shelter, I helped her maintain focus on staying in school, keeping up with her homework, and balancing her employment. I was also able to get her a new pair of glasses after she broke hers, knowing that it is important to see the whiteboard when you are in school.

After a short while, the young woman was able leave our shelter and reunite with her mom and sisters in a family shelter. I was thankful for the opportunity to serve her.

Only as old as you feel

Editor’s note: In 2016 we shared a feature story about John Hopkins Jr., the volunteer highlighted in the story below (read the original story about John). 

Recently one of our all-time favorite volunteers, John Hopkins Jr., decided it was time to move on from serving at the Eastside Salvation Army in St. Paul. For many years he stopped by every weekday to sweep, mop, and take out the trash after our hot lunch program concluded.

Nobody could blame John for calling it quits. The man is 89 years old.

But now, to our surprise, John is back. We first saw him again a few weeks ago when he came in to say hello and for support following an injury he’d sustained. He’d been hit by a car while he was crossing the street, and his hand was very swollen. He was on the mend, but I could tell he was still in a lot of pain.

After chatting, John and I walked to the lunchroom. The second we entered, he stopped dead in his tracks. The floors did not meet his expectation of cleanliness. Immediately he grabbed a broom and began sweeping. The chef and I tried to stop John, reminding him that he didn’t have to help and to rest his injured hand. But he just kept sweeping, muttering under his breath, “I taught that boy better than this,” referring to the man who’d replaced him.

After a few minutes of sweeping, John had to stop because his hand hurt too much. But he vowed to return once it felt better.

True to his word, John showed up again. This time he came during one of our Friday Food Distributions, where dozens of people and families receive fresh fruits and vegetables donated by local grocery stores. Without hesitation, John picked up a broom and began to sweep. Later he mopped and picked up trash. He stayed until the distribution was over, smiling the entire time.

John is such a special person. He is a perfect example of what it means to spread joy and live life the way God intended.

Please join The Salvation Army by volunteering or making a donation to support your local community.